The scope of interpretation

This will be a short one, but I was just thinking, as I’m listening to next week’s piece, perhaps how critical (or not) interpretations are. 

In reading a review of a certain conductor’s traversal of the symphonies of the composer of next week’s piece, I was a bit surprised. If you didn’t know who the conductor was, who the (very famous) orchestra was, or perhaps even which symphony cycle of what composer it was, the review would seem no better than scathing, with a few moments of honest admiration. There was more than one like that of the same recordings. 
It got me to thinking, could a poor interpretation of a piece ‘ruin’ a work for a first-time listener? In my focus on Mahler, I didn’t really feel like performance mattered a great deal until I got more familiar with the pieces themselves to be able to tell the difference, and part of that process with Mahler was just learning to listen in general, so it’s hard to say. 
I certainly go for listens to new performances now and can be just blown away by the awesomeness of a good one (Mehta’s recording of the fourth with the Israel Philharmonic comes to mind), but, at least for a newcomer, could an interpretation be so awful as to turn away a listener? I would suppose professionals could perhaps listen for the intent of a piece. It’s kind of like when I listen to people speak Chinese really poorly. It’s a tonal language. Combine that with intonation and emphasis, and you have, at best, a language that can be difficult
to express yourself in for a learner, and at worst, almost wholly unintelligible speech. Most of the time it’s somewhere in the middle, but I find myself ‘translating’ the speech, correcting the intonation and stress in my head. Is that what professionals do when listening to an ill-informed performance? I don’t know. But I assume perhaps so. That’s my first thought. 
My second is this: how much artistic license, how much liberty can be taken with the ranges of interpretation?
As an amateur, a perfect example comes to mind (to me; it may be horribly misguided). The Mahler interpretations of Boulez vs Bernstein. Their approaches, their fundamental philosophies couldn’t be any more different. For someone who seems to detest sentimentality and emotion in music so much, he has given Mahler a lot of attention (that in itself is a fascinating topic for discussion). Bernstein tends to “over-gild the lily,” as a Mahler interpreter once said (I forget who), but that’s not just Bernstein’s approach to Mahler. It’s just Bernstein. 
The term that comes up in many a review of Boulez’s interpretations is “x-ray,” and I certainly get that. He has such a strength for distilling the score down to the most salient points of the music, keeping everything in its place and showing the music for how to was written, for better or worse. 
I haven’t listened to the whole thing yet, but flipped through bits of his recording of Mahler 7, and it is distinctly different from almost every other. He apparently got a bit of negative feedback for such a different interpretation. I haven’t studied the score, but my guess is that his is a very literal, straightforward reading. The first recording of the seventh I really got into was Abaddo’s performance with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, and going back now, I find some of it’s bits not as enjoyable as other recordings, but it was enough to pique my interest in the piece. 
I tend to steer clear of interpreters (pianists, conductors, soloists, whatever) who are known for taking liberties with interpretation, or even making their own changes to a score. Is that purism or just… Being too strict? I don’t know, but when it comes down to it, I want to hear, as much as possible, what the composer intended for the piece rather than what you think he intended. Even within those bounds, there is still plenty of room for interpretation and expression. I shan’t mention any names, but I’d rather get to know a piece from a traditional, safe, middle-of-the-road interpretation rather than come to expect an interpretation that may be untrue to the intentions of the piece and skew my perception of arguably more accurate readings. 
So when I read reviews like the one I mentioned at the outset, with mentions of rash tempi, wild rubato, dynamics all over the map and all the rest, I tend to think…. Let me listen to a boring but more straightforward approach and then I’ll get back to a more controversial one with more perspective. 
As to Bernstein and Boulez, I was blown away by both of their readings of Mahler’s eighth, even though they couldn’t be more different. But I was able to discern that (I feel) because I already had a feel for the piece. 
I dunno. That’s my thought for the day. 

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